Remapping Nairobi: Buru Buru & Langata by Billy Kahora & Tom Odula

Story Brief

Letters From The Hood: Buru Buru & Langata

The End of The Kenyan Nuclear Family

Urban planning in Kenya reached a dizzying utopia in the late 70s and early 80s with the emergence of new estates for a supposedly new African middle class across Nairobi which was to serve as a modern urban example to Kenya’s other biggest 5 towns. Buru Buru, Southlands, Ngei, Ngumo, Golden Gates, were the new middling and modernist extension of the new State Kenyan State, straddling once-colonial and ‘white’ suburbs like Muthaiga and Karen and African servant quarter spaces like Jericho and Jerusalem.

Buru Buru and Langata’s decline since the early 90s has been a long ignored social phenomenon. Less exciting than Kibera/Mathare-gazing with little prospect for UN Habitat sympathy, lacking in numbers (5,000 houses in Buru Buru, 10,000 voters) to affect the political, these hubs of middle-class pretensions and hence political non-participation therefore have little real political and economic power. The political class lives in Muthaiga, Runda and Karen and courts Kibera (80,000 voters) and Mathare (45,000 voters) come the elections. A mainstream media whose members live there also perpetuate the illusion of prosperity and social health, continuously painting wealthier spaces through an aspirational gaze and feeding off feelings of false superiority to all non-estate (read slum and low-income) spaces.

In reality and with time, Buru Buru and estate Langata have become huge sites of youth unemployment, alcoholism, increasing criminality, family breakdowns, insanity and social dysfunction. We present an in-depth scrutiny of two of these ‘estates’, and bordering slums, through two extended letters from Buru Buru (Eastlands) and Southlands (Langata) to map the end of the Kenyan nuclear family and tell the story of the (mis)fortunes a modern/contemporary Nairobi/Kenya.

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